Andrea Bowers discusses "#sweetjane" in 500 words with Artforum's Courtney Yoshimura.
I’M FROM A SMALL TOWN IN OHIO, and so the Steubenville rape case captured my attention. For this project, I decided to go to Steubenville to record some of the Anonymous protests, in which members rallied to end rape culture and to bring the alleged perpetrators to trial. Anonymous, of course, is an online hacktivist group that organizes and works mostly on the Internet, and they wear Guy Fawkes masks to retain their anonymity. It’s intense what they do, but I’ve become riveted by their Twitter account and a lot of their activities. The case concerned a high school girl who was either drugged or drunk and unconscious when she was assaulted at various parties by a group of boys, mostly football players. Two were convicted of raping her. It was one of the first public cases in which social media played a key role in the convicting evidence. The entire time she was being assaulted, those involved were Tweeting, texting, and posting videos of their actions online. The high school and local police didn’t seem to take the assault very seriously, and it was only through the efforts of Anonymous, also using social media, that this case got a lot of media attention and went to trial.
One of the things I found interesting about the case was the issue of anonymity. The victim, Jane Doe—a minor at the time—was kept anonymous to protect her identity. But this seemed to help the media focus more on the football players, because their faces, names, and backgrounds were publicly discussed. It seemed like it was so easy to dismiss Jane Doe simply because no one knew anything about her. I’m interested in how this type of anonymity is related to ethics: When someone is kept anonymous to protect their identity, how do publics treat them? And how is this related to social media? Is there a different set of ethics?